By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In politics, there are no permanent friends and foes, and it will be naïve of me to expect otherwise in the build up to the 2023 general election and its aftermath. Perhaps, what we didn’t envisage was how the outcome of the election would deeply divide and turn people against one another; persons considered as heroes in some quarters have suddenly become villains in the eyes of those who once revered them as if there will never be another election in Nigeria.
It was also not conceivable that the hitherto united voice of the South against their perceived Northern hegemons could crumble even after the election was won by a Southerner. In the absence of spirit of sportsmanship, here we are with uncertainties and violent outbursts over a competition that must produce one winner and losers. They say, if you can’t stand the heat, don’t enter the kitchen. Conversely, if you can’t stay the course and the long haul, don’t go into politics or contest for any elective position, because this business is a marathon, not a sprint.
A man contested for the presidential election for the first time and posted an impressive record, yet all hell is let loose by his supporters because he didn’t win outright. That man is Peter Obi of the Labour Party. President Muhammadu contested elections three times and got lucky the fourth time. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is derided as a serial presidential aspirant/candidate, having done that for five times and on each occasion he lost. In 2019, he was said to have won the election, but the cabal around President Buhari waded in and the man was denied that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, yet Atiku did not bring down the roof. That is what leadership is about.
Why this furore over Obi not being declared winner of the last election? Is there more to his involvement in the election that we do not know? Could it be about a religious war that he mentioned in his telephone conversations with the Living Faith Church overseer, David Oyedepo? Whose bidding was he doing? Why has PO’s loss become the most discussed everywhere and the biggest discourse on the front burner in Nigeria, turning former enemies to friends and vice versa. And why has the struggle become a religious warfare and ethnic narrative? What of Obi’s supporters who are neither Christians nor Igbo? How do Obi’s die-hards make them feel?
Now the much-talked about elite consensus before the election only succeeded in producing a reverse in an elite conspiracy against Tinubu, and Obedients are in the vanguard of the new frontier of a never-ending struggle for power. One doesn’t have to be his supporter to see through it. already there is a litany of cases pitting politicians against one another and against the victor in that election.
The election might not have been perfect-I didn’t even expect it to be despite INEC’s assurances, but it was largely peaceful, even as it produced unexpected upsets in places like Kano, Lagos, Zamfara states amongst others. The Labour Party did not labour in vain either; it now has a governor and at least 40 lawmakers including six senators-elect, contrary to the expectation that the election would be a battle between APC and PDP only.
Smaller parties like YPP and SDP now have elected lawmakers at the national level. The election has also proved that individual merits matter more than political party membership and voter consciousness is rising. This is a sign that our democracy is maturing. Why can’t we look at the big picture rather than wanting to be president at all cost. If this is not progress, I wonder what is. Must democracy be about a particular person’s victory?
As interesting as it can be, it is not only when the underdog defeats the incumbent that we should celebrate. Other wins as stated above should be reckoned with too. Meanwhile, we cannot blame the APC/Asiwaju Bola Tinubu for taking advantage of the confusion in the opposition. I believe strongly that Tinubu was, is still not a popular candidate or president-elect, but the opposition handed him victory on a platter of gold because of their inability to come together.
It therefore became a butt of joke when the first act of the opposition after Tinubu was declared winner, was a joint press conference between LP’s vice-presidential candidate, Datti Baba Ahmed and PDP’s vice-presidential candidate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, finding their ball, and coming to the realisation that they could come together to challenge Tinubu’s victory, after the fact and the no-love-lost relationship that endured before the election; that spirit of cooperation should have been enacted before to defeat their mutual enemy in APC/Tinubu. So, agonising after failing to organise is medicine after death, just like the resignation of Iyorchia Ayu after the election was won and lost was an exercise in nullity. My God! what was he thinking?
Having lost that opportunity, Obidients have now turned against their former friends, while forming new alliances with anyone or group that tows their line of thought or support their aggression on social media and their other comfort zones. Who would have thought that Obidients would turn against Wole Soyinka, a man who never saw anything good about the North because of his support and alliance (unholy?) for Biafra during the civil war. Tinubu’s men went into the archives to unearth the news of Soyinka’s release from prison after serving a 22-year jail term over his support for Biafra, thus throwing away a romance of over 50 years. Is Obi really worth it or there is more to him.
As a matter of fact, when the interest of Yorubas and Igbos used to align against their common enemy, the North, it was a fair game. The table has turned. The war of words is now within. Good for them? I dare not say, for any part of Nigeria in dispute and discord diminishes the whole. Now I genuinely fear the prospect of a full-blown conflict between Yoruba and Igbo when Tinubu is eventually sworn in. I hope reason and restraint will prevail.
Because of Obi, Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba group is now in dissenting voices and views. In the East, the dust is yet to settle, so IPOB supporters roam the streets chanting war songs, maiming and killing. Governor Soludo is now treated like a pariah in his home-zone because of his open support for PDP and for venting his opinions that Obi might not win. Now there is real possibility of the party in self-destruction all because of Obi and what he stands for. The party is in disarray, because of their relative success so far.
Before their Labour adventure, time was in this country when we thought APGA would grow into becoming another form of AD/ACN of the South West such that it would challenge the then ruling PDP as it eventually did in 2015, when ACN had an alliance with Buhari’s CPC and ANPP to produce Buhari as president and now Tinubu. What did Obi do? He jumped ship, left APGA to PDP and landed in Labour, while always forum shopping for a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to ride on. I really hope we have not elevated the wrong hero.
As long as Obidient movement was not about Nigeria, not about good governance and not about bringing sanity to our democratic journey and polity; and if the movement is not about mobilising the youth for a common cause of salvaging the country, but about narrow interests of tribe and religion, I would be shocked at its sustainability before the next election. I despise the way Obidient movement has been reduced to a divisive force, because in my household, some voted for Obi, but now we don’t belong, going by their action so far.
I worry for the youth, who in their mobilisation and sacrifice for Obi, thought they had found an anchor, a succour to which their ideals and projection for an ideal country could find expression.
Zainab Suleiman Okino chairs Blueprint Editorial Board. She is a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE). She can be reached via: email@example.com